By Kate Rockwood
It can be easy to let annual health checkups fall by the wayside. Especially if you don’t have any major health issues. But annual screenings are one of the best ways to discover a potential health issue early. Health problems are almost always much easier to fix when you catch them early.
With some health issues, being screened might be the only way to know you have a problem. High blood pressure, for example, doesn’t have any symptoms at all, but it’s a major risk factor for heart disease if left untreated.
Diabetes is also another great example of why annual health screenings are important. Type 2 diabetes is often preventable with lifestyle changes. Annual health screenings are also a great time for you to talk with your doctor about healthy lifestyle habits like eating right and getting enough exercise.
Here are some of the common health screenings you might get every year and why they’re important:
Height and weight
Plenty of people dread stepping on a scale, but your height and weight is how your doctor measures your body mass index (BMI), which can help determine if you’re at a healthy weight and your risk for illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
You should get your blood pressure checked every one to two years since high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Typically your blood pressure is taken at every doctor’s visit.
Routine blood work
You’ve probably heard your doctor talk about routine blood work, but you might not know exactly what that means. It can vary based on your age, family history, and risk factors, but some common tests that are run using your blood include an HIV test, a thyroid panel for women, the hemoglobin A1C test to screen for diabetes, and a cholesterol panel.
Mammograms and pelvic exams
Once women turn 21, they should have a pelvic exam every year and a mammogram every year starting between the ages of 40 and 44.
You might have noticed that your doctor sometimes asks you questions about your mood or how much you drink. Checking in on your mental health or any issues with substance abuse is also an important part of annual screenings. That’s because it may not always be obvious to you if you have a problem. Depression, for example, is fairly common—about 16% of people will experience depression at some point in their lives—but sometimes the symptoms are not as well known. Along with sadness, common symptoms of depression also include irritability and extreme guilt.
You should see your dentist at least once a year. Taking care of your teeth and gums can not only help you prevent cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss or infection, but also clue you into other potential health issues such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Annual visits are also a great time to ask your doctor about any health concerns you have. (Although if something is bothering you, don’t hesitate to call your doctor right away!) You also might want to talk about getting support with making a healthy lifestyle change like quitting smoking or to talk about vaccines you may need like the flu shot or shingles vaccine.
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